It has been reflected in relevant literature by scholars that education is a key factor for improving the quality of human resources in general and for developing new skills, cultural values and behavioural patterns needed in the industry. One cannot imagine how powerful the ability to read and write is. Encouraging our youths to obtain relevant education is not only worthwhile but also an investment towards national development. As I write this article, the ASUU strike is still on.
When our public universities are shut for almost six months because of issues that could have been resolved in less than a month, one has a feeling that some powerful individuals are plotting to destroy our youths and future generations. Indefinite closure of public tertiary institutions in my view, is a clandestine attack on education, industry, and a reprehensible effort tactically orchestrated by some powerful persons at starving the nation of quality manpower needed for development. It is just a pity!
While it is conceded that an appreciable level of improvement has been made in the education sector in Nigeria since independence in 1960, serious questions remain regarding the quality of graduates from most public universities. Why? Universities have exploded in Nigeria so rapidly that we now have about 170 universities – 79 private, 43 federal and 48 are state universities – most of which are thinly funded. Anyone who has visited some public universities recently in the country may observe that most of our public universities lack contemporary books and journals in their libraries, chemicals in laboratories and basic equipment in their workshops. It is the same story in some state and federal polytechnics.
The dire strait of Nigerian public universities is perhaps best captured by the fact that in an era characterised by the 4th Industrial Revolution when numerous children in developed and newly industrialised countries are computer literate, many computer science students in our universities cannot afford a laptop because of the exorbitant prices of these devices in the market. This is as a result of depreciation in the value of our national currency, the naira. But these students will earn their certificates anyway, despite the fact that they may have only read computer books that have become outdated as a result of rapid pace of change in the digital world.
When a law professor in one of our public universities told me she is paid about N500,000 per month, I was shocked. I could not ask if it was basic salary or net pay. One wonders whether poor pay is the reason why competent and dedicated university administrators and lecturers are fast becoming endangered species. Teachers and lecturers in our education system are so poorly rewarded that most people consider academic work as the job of last resort.
Who wants to teach students in Nigeria when there are more better paid jobs in the oil and gas industry as well as hi-tech and telecommunications industries either in the country or abroad? Poor remuneration, obsolete teaching facilities, and inadequate funding for research activities are just a few reasons why most lecturers and teachers are frustrated in their teaching profession. Accordingly, they have to engage in parallel time consuming occupations, which seriously in my view, undermine their performance in their institutions.
The proliferation of tertiary institutions has not improved the quality of education in Nigeria as most students are ill- prepared for the industry. It is either strike today or strike tomorrow. Students that are supposed to be engaged in meaningful academic work in the public universities are now at home since February 2022. Most university students are currently doing nothing while others are assisting their parents in either personal or family businesses.
There are official reports that $378 million have been spent on foreign education from January to May 2022 in Nigeria. What were we expecting? One may argue that the vogue by most parents to send children abroad to school is one of the reasons why foreign exchange is scarce in the country. So what should parents do? Wake up daily and look at their children who have not graduated going out with friends and following politicians around? No! If some parents can afford sending their children to tertiary institutions abroad, they should please do so.
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I guess aforementioned problems are some of the reasons why the ASUU President and his colleagues strongly argued in deviance to Mr President’s cautionary order that, “it is not over until it is over.” In fact, a respected columnist in the Guardian Newspaper wrote a masterpiece titled “When will enough be enough?” For more than three decades now, the country has drifted to a situation of low academic standard. I hold that the progress made in the 1960s and 1970s to develop education in Nigeria have been crippled from the late 1980s till this moment by some political leaders who are anti-intellectual.
My attention was drawn to the visit and remarks made by our amiable and distinguished Director General of the World Trade Organization, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. The DG, WTO was quoted as saying that, “Nigeria must strengthen industry to manufacture vaccines.” I agree in Toto with the DG, WTO, because she meant well for African countries particularly Nigeria. In fact, our universities and polytechnics – public and private- are research institutions required to provide research findings and quality manpower for the industry.
But how does a nation like Nigeria strengthen industry when academics in public universities are on strike? And how will lecturers in other tertiary institutions which have been shut because of insecurity in the North contribute to industry? These lecturers are at home farming, while their students are seen gallivanting around the country with politicians?
How does Nigeria strengthen the industry in an economy predominantly diesel-propelled with exodus of many talented Nigerians in search of greener pasture outside the shores of the country? How does the country strengthen industry to manufacture vaccines when most of the raw materials would be imported?
Or, is Nigeria getting the raw materials for vaccines free from donor countries? How will Nigeria strengthen the industry when all policies are well-articulated on paper but implementation strategies are poor? Policy decision makers need to address these questions if Nigeria aspires to produce vaccines because of the complex interaction that exists among industry, research institutions, science and technology. (To be continued)